About the Author

Ken Sparling

Ken Sparling is the author of six novels: Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, commissioned by Gordon Lish; Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt, handmade using discarded library books and a sewing machine; a novel with no title; For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers; Book, which was shortlisted for The Trillium Award; and Intention | Implication | Wind. He lives in Toronto, where he works in a marketing role with the city's public library system.

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This Poem Is a House

God knew that all over the world people were thinking.
Old men cried thinking
back over their years of lament and mistrust. It wasn’t their fault.
God felt that people wanted him.
God was a technician.
He knew how to scrape away at the world.
He could encroach without rupturing.
He knew his job.
God didn’t create the world at all,
he discovered the world,
and had then introduced it to the masses.
And now everyone holds him personally responsible.
The boy wanted to go out into the snow
and be flash frozen,
only to be found ten million years later,
a mythical beast, a symbol.
But a dead one.

Once upon a time there was a little boy and a little girl
who lived in different places
and didn’t know each other.
Then they grew up and met each other
at a dance club.
The boy was attracted to the girl’s curly hair,
crossed front teeth and wayward eye.
He was soon madly in love with her.
Who are these people? the girl asked when they were together
on the dance floor.
I don’t know, said the boy. I’ve never met any of them.
Tell me a story, said the girl.
Well, said the boy, in this story the girl felt
that the boy was a walking fashion statement,
but, even so, she only spent time with him because
she couldn’t seem to get him to go away.

What place do we hold in ourselves for God
when God comes visiting
and our chests expand till it hurts,
God crushing the breath out of us
till our teeth blow out of our faces like tiny white heat-seeking missiles.
We have seen the clouds.

The American holidays came upon us
like panthers ripping
through grass
like small cars pulled
by wild horses.
The African holidays come upon us like radical memories
slipping through the small cracks of love we feel
when we see the sun
come up the far side of the place
where the sun goes down
every night.

The boy came across the bridge.
A crowd was waiting
on the other side.
He saw people.
People he knew.
He saw his mom.
He saw Mrs. Haversimmel.
Old Lady Rain.
He felt lonely.
Step forward, they hissed.
They were angry
at him.
Seeing them made him sad.
They were disgusted.
Grow up! they told him.
But the boy was asleep again
and the people were gone
and the morning ravished him
and he got dressed
and went out
to the driveway
and stood with his heart bent forward
in his chest.
The light hurt his eyes.
His dad was suddenly there beside him
lighting up a cigarette,
squinting into the morning.
He looked so tired.
He needed a shave.
The boy turned away into the hurting space
and tried to stare at the moment truthfully
with no illusions.
His dad put the cigarette into his mouth,
drew on it deeply.

When people talk, the boy told the girl, I hear what they say
but something that I want goes
or somehow arrives
under the sky of bright,
like hearing the secret pantings of a soul
whispering a secret message.
Who is god?
What is god?
If you ask the question
wrong, they say you will never get the answer
right. Most people already know
the answer they want,
so it’s easy to get the question right.
It’s harder when you really don’t know.

The tree had gone strange, the boy told the girl,
and when we looked at each other
we found we had the same wind on us
but a different wind, also,
each of us.
Because every speck of wind
coming down the hill that morning
was a different speck of wind
yet they all came down the hill together
like they were going to a party
and not each to its own destiny.
I am rising in the wild windy dark.

Roll down your window, the boy said. It’s okay,
he said.
The girl was afraid.
She spent a lot of time playing with the dogs.
The dogs were white.
The girl had feelings.
She tried to slip past them.
She tried to slip her feelings into random moments
of the alreadyness of her ongoing and uncooperative life,
as though they weren’t her moments,
but moments that belonged to another person,
as though they were on loan to her
from the library of moments.

The madman had a furnace room
at the bottom of the stairs
where he kept the lights out all the time.
He would pay the girl, he said.
It was the man who looked like a he was in a coma.
If you saw him sitting back at the back there,
you knew he was waiting.
The girl took the job
not for the money
but just because
the man asked her
so nicely.
She liked the man.
His sad eyes.
She wanted to say yes to those eyes.

The boy’s dad died in October.
Christmas dinner that year was baloney
and honey.
These are people, the boy told himself.
These are people who have been riding route six every night of their life.
When the door opened at the front to let people off, the lights came on.
It was like daylight.
It was like creation.
The guys who designed this bus sure knew a thing or two
about lights, the boy thought.
People on the closed highways were freezing
to death in their cars.

I was in the rec room today, the girl said. Did I tell you about that already?
I have long wavy hair, she added at the last minute.
Then, more languorously: I am a goddess, really,
in the looks department.
I should send you a picture.

Spike is our baby kangaroo
and he’s inviting school kids to come
out for the festivities and pay him
a visit.

Thought sheet
4. How could you use the manual to teach this subject to a friend?
5. What other sources of information on the Laws of Driving are you aware of?
6. When you cleaned computers for a living, did you check behind the machines?
7. Did you remove the dust balls, garbage, etc. which proliferate?

They were all laughing
and drinking
The boy put his coat on
and went out
the front door
and walked to the end of the street.
It was his father’s street
and his father was with him.
The snow was coming
down in big, fluffy flakes.
It was beautiful.

I believe in lying, said the girl,
down on white.
And, sure, red will arrive.
But lie
on your back
on the white
and let the red ride
over you like a lover.
The jello seahorses rode the waves of the bed
like they were starving.
They rode like stallions salivating
in the form of a new god.
White foam rode
over the edges
of the boy’s dream
like white cum spilling
from the hole
at the top of a cock,
dripping like rain
being pushed
across a moving windshield.
There were amber anchors
in the sand.
A flotilla of boats rushing suddenly leaving
the world deserted and empty.
Dripping gobs of humanity
ran over the far edges of the earth
drifting into the infinite vacuum,
sliding beneath the grand waterfall
at the far end of the great god’s garden.

Someone thought the morning might finally come, the boy told the girl,
but Mother said no.
If anyone had a claim to the mountains,
it would be Bear, who we saw that summer
running over the world like spring water sprung.
The boy prayed mightily that the wind would let up,
and sometimes, yes, the trees would stop falling
and they would gather together in the calm,
amid the carnage,
shiny-eyed and hungry.
The boy’s dog would live long
enough to see the river again.
I loaded things into my wagon, the boy told the girl,
and I pulled it out onto the road.
Pa stood on the porch and screamed
hisself hoarse, but the wind took his words
and tossed them over the house
and I never heard a word
nor even the sound of his voice, again.
I turned once and saw Pa
with his mouth open
and that’s the last I ever saw of Pa.

The smoke from the girl’s cigarette seemed to have a dark purpose.
It curled richly around the conversation.
I don’t smoke any more, she said, exhaling smoke,
her chest falling like an avalanche.
But you make me nervous.
She was wearing a party dress
over a pair of ratty jeans.
Her feet were bare and wiggly.
Cigarette? She offered the pack.
I don’t smoke, the boy managed.
You could start. The girl smiled. It was a mischievous smile.

There was a light dusting the snow on the sidewalk
in front of the hotel where the boy was staying in St. John’s.
He and the girl were looking out the big front window of the hotel.
Now and then car headlights swept a swathe through the falling white.
God’s beard, the boy said.
The girl hooked her thumbs into the belt loops of her jeans.
I write because it makes me happy, the boy told the girl.
They left the hotel to try to go and find some coffee.

And then, one day, I was a kid, the boy said when they were sitting
in a restaurant. And when I was a kid, things could make me happy.
And writing was what made me happy.
Because the people I wrote for were happy
that I wrote.
And that is still the case today.
The girl has always been an invaluable help, the boy told his friend.
But she is blue.

When you let go of the tree, you fall asleep.
The girl knew this to be true. It was her lullaby.
Where he was now was in sleep,
the sky still overcast,
but it would soon not be.
You could see where the clouds were going,
and where they were not going.
You could see how it would end
and it was only a matter of time.
There would be a turning point,
and then time would begin, again,
to be worried about the positioning of the world
in relation to its own falling.
The boy was falling
from a tree.

There was a lady bug on my knee, the boy said. He opened his eyes.
The girl was on her back,
in the bed.
He turned his head to see her
beside him.
She looked like cream swirling
into coffee.
I flicked the lady bug away, the boy said.
The girl seemed to be asleep.
And it flew over the beach,
away from me,
toward the water.
It disappeared for a moment,
into the place where water meets shore,
then reappeared again, out over the water.
I tried to keep it in my vision.
I saw random spots
of black above the water.
One of the spots turned into a bird,
which dove into the water.
And when I woke, you were here beside me.
The girl sighed.
She doesn’t care what I say, the boy thought.
She was listening only to the melody of his voice.
So he sang her a song of words without inflection,
words she could inhabit
with her own ideas,
and they would start out as black spots on a papery dawn sky
and fly out into the world
where they would be greeted by the mobs
and the world would be a honey melon
where you trudged across the surface, trying to stay on top of things.
It hurts to speak a single word,
to leave a word alone like that,
and the boy wants to pull it back
to safety, but
it’s too late.
I’ll have to be more careful, the boy thinks.
And maybe he says some things she doesn’t want
to hear.
And maybe he talks more than he ought to.
She wants to hear what he says
as a series of sentences
that become
a poem.
Like circus elephants letting go of each other’s tails.
He’s got things under control, anyway,
so who cares about the furniture, anyway, it seems
to the girl that the boy has got things
under control,
so she doesn’t worry
about the furniture
that is manifesting in new locations
all over the house.
She gets used to turning on the lights
when she gets up at night to wander
the house, so she doesn’t run
into any stray furniture.
Lost furniture, she calls it.
The dresser dead centre of the living room.
The ottoman by the kitchen window.
The house is a poem,
she tells herself.
And the girl wants a story.
She still wants a story.
She hasn’t given up on this.
But the boy seems calmer now, anyway.
And the story the girl tells can house the boy’s poem,
Maybe she can hold his poem safe
inside her story.
She can’t abide, though, the terrible blinking
of her eyes when she turns on a light
in the middle of the night
when she goes to the living room to sit
on the couch and feel
deep inside herself
the effort of trying again to feel
what she might have never felt, but hopes
she isn’t just imagining.
So she carries a flashlight.
She keeps, always, a flashlight
by her head, on the table by the bed
by her head.
She tries a variety of flashlights
over the course of a week or two
and finally settles for the flashlight app on her iPod,
because it’s so soft,
so as to be almost useless.
It almost doesn’t serve its purpose.
She likes a thing that serves its purpose by almost falling
of serving
its purpose.
Like the boy,
she supposes.

The boy is twenty-seven and out of work
and he can’t figure out how he ended up here
on this beach
with this woman.
He’s just killing time till his first beer
of the day.
The woman looks thirty-something, at least.
But she’s actually much younger – younger even than him.
She smokes too much.
She eats a lot of bacon. An enormous amount of bacon.
It will kill her eventually.
In the interim, though, she’ll just get tired.
Soon, she’ll be really tired.
The tattoo on her calf is stretching.
He can’t even remember what that tattoo was
supposed to be.
A boat maybe.
But what was it supposed to mean,
what did it stand for?
He looks out at the boats
on the lake.
Sail boats. They clear the harbour break wall,
then tack out to the deeper water.
The wind is changing.
He can see it in the way her cigarette smoke gets pulled
away as soon as it leaves her mouth,
passing her lips,
then torn
like a flimsy curtain
in a mad mad wind.
He is the boy.
But he is not the boy.
He is the poem
the boy was always meant to be.

The girl is in the next room.
The boy can hear her humming.
He can see her in his mind’s eye.
It’s true
that the mind has an eye.
It freaks him out sometimes
to see
the things his mind’s eye sees.
The straw blond hair of the girl on the beach
with the man smoking cigarettes.
In his mind’s eye, these two people never go home.
They just keep moving down the beach,
so slowly.
to look
back. But never backtracking.
And when they run out of beach…
…well, they don’t.
They just don’t ever run out of beach.
They just die one day.
One of them dies
one day.
Another day, the other dies.
And that dog of theirs just goes on
searching for sticks on the beach forever.
Dogs never die
in the boy’s mind’s eye.

The boy loves the girl.
Seeing her sitting on the beach in her beach chair,
with the towel over the back of her neck to keep it
from getting burnt.
And he loves her all the more for what she thinks she is
that she isn’t.
He loves the girl he sees beneath the girl she sees.
He loves to try to look down her top.
He likes it when she’s busy
reading a book
or eating her cereal
and he passes by
and tries to see down her top.
It makes him feel less alone.
He remembers turning into a teenager at the cottage, that feeling he always had.
It scared him sometimes,
but at other times it was like bliss spilling out through his veins.
Like some kind of drug that got into every cell in his body
and made him feel like collapsing
on the spot
and quivering
on the beach.
But let’s not get carried away here.

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